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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Krabi "Perfect Seaside Vacation and paradise for nature lovers"

Krabi Town

Krabi Town, a small market town that is typically Thai, is the provincial capital. Its convenient location and good transport links mean many people choose to stay here for a night or two before leaving for the islands. The mainland beach areas are also accessible from here on a day trip.

During the day, the town is busy with the morning market. This indoor warehouse is the biggest of its kind in southern Thailand and is a great place to wander round, taking in the sights, sounds and smells - and maybe even sampling some of the tropical fruit or the delicious ready-prepared snacks on offer.

Later on, you can go on a riverside walk, where you can take in many small shops and restaurants, as well as a great view of the town's symbols, the 'dog-ear'-shaped rocks of Khao Kanab Nam . You can rent a longtail boat from the pier to visit the small island on which they stand. The ride takes you along the mangrove-lined Krabi River and you can see the amazing caves inside them, a favourite location for visiting film crews.

Many people also like to explore the backwaters of the Krabi River on a half-day kayaking tour. There's plenty of wildlife to see, and most tours also stop off at the traditional floating fishing villages along the way.

Shopping and eating tend to be the two main activities in Krabi Town , even for the locals! From the department store, to souvenir stands and jewellery shops, there is something for everyone here, at prices well below the touristy beach areas. There are also hundreds of authentic Thai eateries and, in the evening, a popular night market serving classic dishes like phad Thai and grilled chicken, as well as other local delicacies.

Krabi Town is accessible on a day trip from the mainland beach areas with the local bus service from Ao Nang – a 20-minute ride. There's no need to take a guided tour as the centre is quite small, but do take a map with you for guidance.

Ao Nang Beach

While Krabi Town may be the provincial capital, it's Ao Nang that is tourist central in Krabi. With the highest concentration of hotels, resorts, restaurants and shopping, as well as good transport infrastructure inland and offshore, it's the ideal place to base your holiday.

There's a wide choice of accommodation on offer, although prices tend to be comparatively higher than those in the north and Bangkok - but this is true of all the beaches and islands in Thailand.

Despite its rapid development in the last five years, Ao Nang cannot be considered 'spoiled' - although many visitors who have been coming here since the first bamboo bungalows opened 15 years ago feel that the recent opening of a McDonald's was a step too far. But the area is far from becoming like Phuket or Samui: for one, it is much smaller, with no high-rise buildings; and most of the businesses are still locally owned and run, giving the place a laidback charm.

Because everything is concentrated in a small area around the main beach road, Ao Nang is also very convenient to get around. Most places, including the beach, will be within short walking distance from your hotel.

Ao Nang Beach itself is a pretty, palm-lined stretch of sand, dominated by the large cliffs at its southern tip. You can spend the day here swimming and snorkelling, or just relaxing in a beach café; although most people use Ao Nang as a jumping off point for day trips to the islands and inland, coming back in the evenings to eat, shop and enjoy a night out.

Tour agents line the beach road; most organised trips depart from here and operators will be able to pick you up directly from your hotel. If you want to go it alone, longtail boats can be found on the shore, waiting to take you to the islands; and you can also hire a car and driver / guide for the day anywhere along the beach road.

After sunset - which is often a spectacular show seen from the beach - the beachfront comes alive as people return from the islands and set off, freshly showered and dressed up for a night out. Shopping, eating and drinking are what is done best here. There's a large choice of restaurants, particularly for western food - so much so that the beachfront has earned the nickname of 'Little Italy'.

Shops sell everything from souvenirs to fake Rolex watches and DVDs (buyer beware!) and bargaining is a must. Massage shops, spas and beauty parlours stay open late, so you can indulge after your hard day island-hopping. Alternatively, you can sit in a roadside bar and people watch, or sip a pina colada under the stars at a beach bar on the sand.

Railay Beach Krabi

This inaccessibility gives Railay Beach a special 'island feel', which, with the spectacular scenery, draws many visitors every year. It's probably the most popular place in Krabi to spend Christmas and New Year, with the limited number of rooms filling up around six months in advance.

There are three sides to the Railay Beach peninsula, two of which boast spectacular beaches: the west-facing Sunset Beach and Phra Nang Bay . Both could be ranked among the best beaches in Thailand , with their wide expanses of powder white sand sloping down to emerald green water. Accommodation on these two sides is naturally the more expensive; there are cheaper rooms on the mangrove-lined east coast, within around 10-15 minutes' walk from the main beaches.

Of course, there are no cars or roads in Railay, which also gives the place a relaxed feel. Lazy days are spent by the pool or on the beach; more active people can try their hand at rock-climbing, for which Railay is rightly famous. There are many climbing schools that run courses for complete beginners as well as those who want to improve their skills.

Railay Beach is often the gorgeous shot featured on tourist posters of Thailand and there are endless postcard pictures to be taken so don’t forget your camera. At the far end of Phra Nang beach you will find a small cave with a shrine notable for its phallic statues. In fact it is dedicated to a deity known locally as Sri Kunlathewi who, according to legend, was apparently an Indian princess wrecked on this coast in the 3rd century BC and has been called upon by fishermen ever since to provide them with a good catch. The really adventure-minded can climb a rugged path up the side of this impressive karst cliff to discover a hidden lake in its centre.

At night, Railay is fairly quiet, with a few small beach bars, although there is a pocket of lively, rasta-style bars on the east side which stay open late and often have live music and fire shows. The girlie-bar scene is completely absent from here as the majority of visitors are either families or young backpackers.

Phi Phi Island

Known as the 'jewels of the Andaman Sea', the six islands in the Ko Phi Phi group are Phi Phi Don, Phi Phi Leh, Bamboo Island , Yung Island , Bida Nok and Bida Nai. The first is the only one inhabited; the rest can be visited on organised day trips from the mainland, or from Phi Phi Don itself.

Despite the island’s unceasing popularity – thanks in part to its starring role in the blockbuster movie The Beach - a visit should be a top priority on any Krabi holiday. In a province filled with amazing and dramatic scenery, Phi Phi is even more amazing and more dramatic! Picture towering green cliffs, rising up from a glittering turquoise sea, and endless white sandy bays dotted along the shore, and you begin to have some idea of what awaits you here. But even after seeing the photos, the reality never fails to blow people away.

Phi Phi Leh Island , the most beautiful of the six, is shaped like a piece from a jigsaw puzzle, with sheer walls concealing hidden lagoons, and the stunning Maya Bay - which has the Hollywood seal of approval, thanks to the film.

Bamboo and Yung Islands also boast some fantastic beaches; while Bida Nok and Nai are little more than large rocks, used mainly by divers, who say the underwater scenery here is among the most beautiful in Krabi. All around the Phi Phi Islands , marine life is abundant and snorkelling stops will be a feature of any tour. Visibility here is excellent - up to 20 metres - and the variety of coral and fish you will see is amazing.

If you wish to stay in Phi Phi to take full advantage of what the islands have to offer, this is possible in one of the many hotels and resorts on the largest island of Phi Phi Don. But it is highly sought after with limited accomodation, especially since the tsunami destroyed many hotels, and you’re advised to book well in advance. Many prefer the advice of coming for a day trip.

Koh Lanta Island

Lying just south of Krabi is another popular island in the area which is far more low key than Ao Nang and Koh Phi Phi. Koh Lanta is lush and unspoilt and largely escapes the manic atmosphere of tuk tuks, pushy market traders and sleazy go go bars, making it a popular alternative.

There's not really very much to do on Koh Lanta - and that's the whole point. Krabi province’s biggest island is blessed with nine sandy beaches and an atmosphere so laid back that even turning the pages of a book can seem like an effort after a while.

If you’re after total relaxation, Koh Lanta is certainly the place to come. Despite rapid development over the last few years, the island never feels overcrowded and there is accommodation to suit every taste and budget from backpacker bungalows to boutique resorts, as well as a luxury five-star hotel.

Choosing your accommodation here is perhaps more important than elsewhere as you are unlikely to leave the vicinity more than a few times throughout your holiday. All the resorts here are situated directly on the sand - i.e. there is no road between the bungalows and the beach and there are always plenty of bars, restaurants and hammocks nearby.

Transportation to and from Koh Lanta

Koh Lanta is accessible by passenger ferry from Krabi Town , Ao Nang and Koh Phi Phi. There is also a car ferry service from the pier at Hua Hin, some 50km south of Krabi Town . During the low season (May to October) this is the only route into Koh Lanta; the passenger ferries do not run because of the large monsoon waves. Even in the season it’s a good idea to rent a car or motorbike and ride down the coast to the small ferry crossing. This then gives you the option of transport while on the island if you were thinking of choosing your accomodation when you arrive.

The island is not really suitable for a day trip, both in terms of convenience and pleasure. To give yourself a chance to chill out and get that slow, Lanta feeling, it is best to stay for a few days at a time.

Pha Nga Bay Thailand

Some of the Andaman coast’s most exceptional scenery is found in Pha Nga Bay, located between Phuket and the province of Krabi. In fact Pha Nga is a province of its own, most notable for the awesome karst pillars that jut out of the ocean and landscape across this region. So exotic is this location that it was famously featured in the James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun and is one of the must see destinations on any tourist’s itinerary in the area.

The best way to see Pha Nga bay is by boat and numerous tours leave Phuket and Krabi on day trips to this incredible natural wonderland that provides a feast for the camera lens. You can also drive to the small settlement of Tha Dan, near the town of Pha Nga, and catch a long tail boat tour to the highlights of the bay.

Several famous sites are located in Pha Nga Bay which are all part of a tour of the area and the best known is probably James Bond Island, which received its name after the filming of the movie took place here in the sixties. There’s a fee for landing on the island (usually included in your tour price) and most people alight so they can have themselves pictured with the famous needle of karst in the background that rises dramatically out of the sea.

Tham Lawt is nearby and also included in the itinerary. It’s a large cave which has now been commandeered by the kayaking companies that have capitalised on the beauty and suitability of the area for paddling. Tours by kayak can also be arranged from numerous travel agents in Phuket and Krabi and it can be a fun day out, paddling through these water caves.

Perhaps the most intriguing sight in Pha Nga bay is the Muslim fishing village of Koh Phan Yee which is entirely stilted and clustered beneath a karst cliff entirely surrounded by water. This village has been here for two centuries, deliberately placed here for defensive purposes and its proximity to the sea. The 200 families living here supposedly descended from just two families that migrated here from Java. As you approach the island the turrets of the island’s mosque add to the impression of this remarkable village.

Pha Nga Bay is part of a 400km square national park that was created in 1981. The geological features are an incredible site, formed by fault movements (the same fault which was responsible for the Tsunami) which pushed massive limestone blocks up into patterns. The result is over 40 islands of towering karst that create this unique and breathtaking scenery. Sheer cliffs, overhangs and caves typify the topography and after millions of years they’re covered in verdant vegetation. There are a number of tidal canals and channels that penetrate the mainland and can be explored by boat, creating a scene of utter confusion and manifold massifs. In the upper reaches you’ll discover some magnificent mangrove which supports a range of aquatic and wild life.

If you do decide to hire a car and find your way to the north side of the bay before catching a longtail boat you have the opportunity to visit the enchanting Sa Nang Manora forest park. Although the bay itself can barely be seen or appreciated from the road, the landscape is still full of karst obelisks. The park itself is free and boasts a fairy-tale like scenery of cascading waterfalls and numerous hiking trails that criss-cross the streams and waterfalls. It’s certainly one of the best-kept secrets in the area.

South of Pha Nga Bay are two inhabited islands, Yao Noi and Yao Yai, which have a number of resorts and bungalows on them and offer a peaceful retreat from Phuket. Boats leave several times a day from Phuket and once here you can find day tours to Pha Nga Bay.

Krabi Coastline

The Krabi coastline is one of the most spectacular in the whole Andaman and tours of Krabi are highly recommended. In fact, the province is best seen from the water, from where you can visit the world famous Phi Phi island group as well as several smaller and equally intriguing islands closer to the shore. Then there is the imposing karst scenery of Pha Nga bay to the north of Krabi.

Tours of Krabi are numerous and can be arranged at any of the tour agencies found in Ao Nang and the resorts of the area. The most typical of these is the Four Island and Five Island full and half day tours of the Krabi coast near Ao Nang. These tours depart at about 9am from the beachfront and take you to the small islands not far off shore. The most spectacular of these is Hong Island, a small national park with a beautiful beach in a sheltered bay. Most of the island is sheer karst rock, but there is a picnic spot and small nature trail away from the beach. Usually you will be left here for a couple of hours to enjoy this lovely beach but you’ll have to share it with quite a few longtail boatloads of people.

Koh Phi Phi Natutal Park

This famous island group comprising two smallish, tree–covered, rocky islands: Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Le. Phi Phi Don is the larger of the two, and is world–famous for its coral formations and spectacular beaches. Comfortable but limited accommodation is available along the island’s two scenic bays, Ton Sai and Loh Dalam. Shops at Ton Sai offer diving and snorkelling trips off Phi Phi Don and around the other islands located nearby, such as Koh Phi Phi Le, Koh Mai Phai and Koh Yung. The ferry to Phi Phi from Krabi Town takes 90 minutes and runs twice daily. The Tsunami wiped out most of the development on the island and not much has been rebuilt leaving it in a more natural state.

Shell Cemetery

Situated on the coast between Ao Nang and Krabi Town. This prehistoric site comprises slabs of fossilised shells that are over 75 million years old. The composites of fossils are found in many unusual shapes, all along the stretch of beach here.

Than Bokkharani National Park
Just a half hour’s drive from Ao Nang and you can be in the midst of this other–worldly landscape of steep karst cliffs, waterfalls and pools, and thick tropical forest. The hot springs here originate in the Khao Nor Juji lowland forest and the pools themselves change colour as the day progresses, from deep emerald early in the morning to turquoise as the sun breaks through the forest canopy.

Nopharat Thara Beach
This lonely beach can be reached on foot from the main Ao Nang Beach area by making your way around the small headland. This is long and lovely stretch of tidal beach that is unspoilt by development and a great spot for an early morning run. There are a few resorts here and a ferry pier at the far end, near the small estuary. When the tide is out, you can actually walk out to some of the nearby islands.

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